Blues for a blue line

Residents of the German Colony are worried about the Emek Refaim segment of the light rail.

Emek Refaim Street today, where it intersects with Rachel Imenu Street (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Emek Refaim Street today, where it intersects with Rachel Imenu Street
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
After a burst of enthusiasm and hope that their struggle had won the day, the residents of the German Colony and nearby neighborhoods who united against the Emek Refaim segment of the light rail are worried. Their victory was a partial one only and the tide may yet change – in their eyes – for the worse.
To fight for what they believe, some 4,000 residents opposed to that path created an association. One key activist is Mordehai Avraham, a tour guide who lives on one of the streets crossing Emek Refaim. He is the founder and the leader of the group. Another is Fleur Hassan-Nahum, a city council member and president of the Yerushalmim list. While pursuing their goal, they have developed a degree of mistrust toward the municipality, the mayor and the Master Plan staff. They flatly reject recent portrayals of their association as a group of wealthy residents who can afford a public relations representative, a lawyer and lots of publicity for their cause – in contrast to the Gonenim residents, who badly need this light-rail line but cannot afford to organize a campaign.
The matter is at the district committee level, after being referred to the master plan staff and the municipality to examine alternative solutions for the Emek Refaim segment. The committee mentioned the proposed plan of the association – a tunnel under Harakevet Street.
“Officially, the committee has required Mayor Nir Barkat to look for another route and there is a clear proposal that we submitted,” says Avraham, “but who can assure us that after the three months allotted – with a possible extension if needed – Barkat won’t come back to the committee and say that he has done due diligence and concluded that Emek Refaim is still the best or only solution?”
Some of the debate revolves around the cost of such a tunnel. Both Avraham and Hassan- Nahum reject the municipality’s assertion that the tunnel would cost up to NIS 400 million (on top of the planned budget of the line.)
“According to our experts, the cost is not even close to that sum,” said Avraham. We’re talking about only NIS 90m., not to mention that it would prevent expenditure of hundreds of millions in compensations to the businesses on Emek Refaim.”
Hassan-Nahum says that she feels she has to fight rumors and disinformation being circulated against them. Some sources claim that because of the strong will and the money of the residents of the German Colony, Gonenim residents are being discriminated against and deprived of the public transportation they need so badly. Moreover, it is claimed that the tunnel plan will destroy the Mesila Park.
“There is no truth to this allegation,” says Hassan-Nahum. “We are not suggesting anything that would harm the Mesila Park, which is as dear to us as to all Jerusalem’s residents.” Hassan-Nahum adds that the proposed tunnel will run only under Harakevet Street.
“During the roadwork there will be only minor temporary damage to the park. Meanwhile, the businesses on Emek Refaim will continue as usual, so public money won’t be wasted on damages and compensations.”
Not all of the residents of Emek Refaim and the surrounding area agree with Avraham and Hassan-Nahum. They counter that despite an expected period of heavy roadwork that will necessitate compensations to the businesses, the light rail on Emek Refaim will save that street from the decline and loss of economic activity that it is already suffering from.